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Ferret Care

By: Dr. Lani Steinohrt

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The strong odor of ferrets is primarily due to the influence of sex hormones on the glands in their skin. Castrating males and spaying females will usually control this odor, but your ferret may still have a slight musky scent.

Bathing your ferrets once or twice a month, as well as frequent laundering of their bedclothes will help control this odor. Use a mild cat or ferret shampoo no more frequently than once or twice a month. Bathing in excess will strip their hair coat of its natural oils and shine, and will not control the odor any better.

Another very objectionable, but short-lived odor is excreted from the ferrets' scent (anal) glands during times of excitement or fright (as occurs with dogs and cats). These glands may be removed if deemed necessary. The removal of these glands (descenting) WILL NOT make your ferret odor free. This surgical procedure may also have complications such as fecal incontinence. Most ferrets sold in pet stores in the United States are already neutered and descented. Some breeders will put one or two tattoo "dots" on the flap part (pinna) of one of their ears to indicate the procedure has been done. Other breeders do not. Just because your ferret does not have the tattoo dots does not mean he/she has not been neutered/spayed or descented.

Nutrition

The exact nutritional requirements of ferrets have not been determined as has been done through feeding trials with other pets. We do know that ferrets are strict carnivores that depend primarily on digestible meat protein and fats for their dietary requirements. A pet ferret's maintenance diet should be 18-20 percent fat, 30 - 35 percent crude animal protein with minimal complex carbohydrates and fiber.

Adequate diets for ferrets include commercial ferret diets (Totally Ferret and Marshall Premium Ferret diet, Purina/Mazuri Ferret Chow), and premium kitten foods such as Science Diet and Iams. Meat or poultry, or meat and poultry meals and other by-products should appear first on the list of ingredients on the diet packaging. High levels of plant protein have been associated with urinary stones in ferrets. Unfortunately many inexpensive grocery store brand cat foods contain plant protein and should therefore be avoided.

A dry ration of high quality food is preferred over a canned product. For added fat, use a commercially available fatty acid supplement such as Linatone. This can be given daily at 1 ml per ferret. Domestic ferrets are often prone to hairballs. A cat hairball laxative paste may be given every two to three days as a preventive.

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